In most normal societies, the mere smell of a rat in one’s person would be enough for that person to be regarded as a political pariah. Not in the Philipines. For months, smoke has been detected in the camp of Philippine Vice President Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay thanks to an onslaught of politically-motivated “probes” into his public affairs and personal finances. As far back as mid-2014, convicted mutineer and Philippine “senator” Antonio Trillanes has already been waging a mudslinging war against Binay, using Senate “inquiries” as his vehicle (presumably ‘in aid of legislation’, right?).
Yet, even after more than half a year of demonisation, Binay continues to emerge as the top people’s choice for next President of the Philippines. As recently as March 2015, an SWS poll revealed that Binay remains the most popular “presidentiable” in the land with the inexperienced Senator Grace Poe a distant second. It speaks volumes how an alleged crook and a no-experience political newbie are embraced by the Filipino public as the top potential trustees of their future fortunes.
Now, the fire producing that smoke has supposedly been “discovered”. Suddenly coming out of the woodwork at the usual eleventh-hour are findings issued by the Philippines’ Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) which reveal a vast network of bank accounts, dummies, and conduits allegedly involved in the management of Php 16 billion “since 2008”. The revelation has led to a successful petition of the Court of Appeals to order a freeze of Php 600 million of these funds kept across 242 bank accounts.
One wonders, then, given the astounding scale of the value of the assets involved: Why only now?
So chalk another one up for the Philippines’ now world-renowned Eleventh Hour Tradition of asset and risk management. The “discovery” of this alleged thievery merely highlights just how deep the Philippines’ culture of crime and neglect permeates its society. When astounding wrongs (that could have been prevented had the various agencies tasked with monitoring and controlling risk — the police, state investigation agencies, and regulators — done their job properly) take centre stage in Filipinos’ short-term awareness it is likely that its most sensationalised aspect (in this recent instance, Binay and his billions) represent just the tip of the iceberg of profound banal criminality going down to the society’s underbelly.
This brings us to the reason Binay remains so popular despite these recent “discoveries”. You gotta wonder why the nation’s noble “activists” need to plead with Filipino voters to at least harbour second thoughts about voting Jejomar Binay President of the Philippines in 2016. You’d think the mere suggestion alone that he may be a crook would turn Filipinos off him en masse.
There may be a couple of things at work here underlying Filipinos’ impressive tolerance for banal criminality in their society.
Firstly, it is likely that Binay is not alone in his possible use of his office to effect systematic thievery of the Filipino taxpayers’ hard-earned funds. More importantly, he is certainly not a standout as there are likely others who had stolen easily a lot more than those alleged billions. Perhaps then, in the mind of the average Filipino, the stink being raised about Binay’s “ill-gotten wealth” just happens to be par for the course in the lead up to elections. He just happens to be the biggest threat to the other crooks who have big investments at stake in the 2016 elections.
Second, for the C-D masses Filipino activists presume to “understand”, Binay’s billions fail the So What? test. What, after all, is in it for them if he gets thrown in jail? Will those billions eventually trickle down to them? Will these even be recovered? Philippine history has already answered those questions. On the contrary, perhaps they see Binay’s vast wealth as something they may have access to come election time. After all, a presidential candidate with a multi-billion-peso war chest can be expected to spend big and dole-out big. Amazingly, it is not just the wretched masses who salivate over a piece of those billions, but many in the A-B demographic as well. But it really is not that amazing when you thin of all the businessmen who stand to collect windfalls selling campaign paraphernalia and services to big spenders like Binay over the next few months.
And so we get to the bottomline.
Binay is not the crooked Filipino politician. He is just a crooked Filipino politician. How can one be impressed with billions in stolen goods when the average Filipino cannot even grasp the vast scale of routine thievery many many other Filipino politicians have perpetrated since time immemorial?
The joke, as usual, is on the Average Filipino Schmoe.
Token gestures like the AMLC’s eleventh-hour “investigation” and the Court of Appeals’ last-minute “timely” asset freeze order may impress the legions of “thought leaders” who routinely apply a whole brain to the issues but deliver less than half a brain of “insight” to the fore. The real crime here is staring us in the face — that the Philippines, despite the the bounty of “promise” it showed after more than its fair share of opportunity dangled within its reach — remains the crooked and wretched society that it is today.
Filipinos may feast on the Binay Billions circus today just as they had on other “scandal” fads over the last several decades. But, like the high we get from a meal of chicharon, all we will get out of it is an extra coating of bloat in our arteries and the empty pang of deep hunger in our political gut the following day.
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